Terence Shale felt a small sense of satisfaction when his gravitic baton sent a Zozoan mafioso flying. After the incident with Marcus, Terry didn’t mind a little extra side work. It was a way to get his mind off things and to test some of the new toys that Violante built into his suit. The smuggling ring that he came across, strictly speaking, were small fries: they were bringing in cheap electronics from Alter, but they were built in a clandestine factory in Alter’s asteroid belt, with labor that fit every definition of slavery except a strict legal one.
It gave him the rare chance to smash in televisions, video players, and other electronic devices without even a smidge of guilt. He had a little smile on his face, as the baton in his left hand shattered a television with one of those gravitational waves.
He turned towards the last of the made men. He had his pistol in hands, pointed ineffectually at the Shield’s Seraphim armor. Terry started to open his mouth, to deliver some remark, when the shockwave of a magitek cannon firing shattered the windows, bowled the man over, and shook the house. His armor did not even rattle.
Terry looked at him and sighed. “You got lucky.”
He stepped out of the building, through the front door, and saw two things. First, a laundromat three blocks down the street had turned into a crater filled with debris. Second, a black Sera-R had lifted into the skies and flew away at a low altitude over the city. It passed over Terry’s head in no time at all, the shockwave from its passing sending a wave of debris down the street in his wake.
He heard the sirens wailing, but he doubted the Albrook police would be here in time. He even doubted the Grand Army could deploy in time. They weren’t, typically, expecting a robot to simply appear in the middle of the city.
On the other hand, a robot pilot didn’t expect a flying battlesuit to catch up.
He soared into the air, rushing at the Sera-R from behind. He couldn’t crack Seraphim plastic, but he could hit hard, especially flying that fast. When his foot impacted the back, the plastic armor dented in, and the robot dipped low. It caught the top of a satellite dish, ripping it off, and smashed down into the middle of a park. Terry landed, feet first, and looked up to face the Sera-R, as it turned.
The head of the robot stared down at him. The pilot’s voice boomed out over the loudspeaker. “Which corpse decided to kick me out of the sky?”
“You’re looking at him.”
“What are you planning to do?” he spat at Terry. “A shrimp like you.”
“Just looking,” Terry said. “Unfortunately, my friend made me have laser eyes. It burns when I look.” The blast was everything that he dreamed of: a beam of red, fiery heat that struck the Seraphim in the shoulder, superheated the plastic, and burnt through the back of it.
“Shit!” the pilot shouted. The rifle in the Sera-R’s hand swung down, firing another of those immense blasts of magitek-created fire. The beam scored a hit along the park’s ground, incinerating grass, melting half of a playset, and leaving a fiery crater. It did not, however, burn through Terry’s armor. He leaped into the air, then turned, and came soaring in at the Sera-R.
The pilot was ready, this time. A hand the size of a car swung out, backhanded Terry. His armor kept him from being crushed instantly, but the blow sent him flying through the front of a nearby two-story building. The prefabricated structure wasn’t very sturdy – it was a Great War-issue building, from the GA surplus – and he brought half the facade down as he flew through the wall and into an upstairs storage room. Old boxes full of paper exploded, the contents around him flying like so much confetti.
He forced himself to his feet. Terry’s head rang mightily, but he knew he had little time. That impression was confirmed when he looked outside and saw the rifle, the telltale fiery glow of a magitek shot being prepared.
He fired the heat lasers again. The two beams shot from the suit’s eyes, shooting over the barrel of the rifle, and right through the green visor that hid the Seraphim’s camera system. An explosion tore through the head and the robot stumbled backward. The shot went wide into the air. Terry cracked a smile.
“Back-up cameras are a pain in the ass!” the pilot shouted. “I’m going to rip you in half, pal!”
Terry didn’t intend to let him try. He adjusted his aim, the targeting reticule on his suit’s HUD sliding down to the Sera-R’s right knee. Before he fired, though, the building around him shredded apart. He saw one of the enormous cannon rounds rip right through the ceiling and floor in front of him, before the floor gave way, and the entire building came collapsing down in a heap around him.
For a moment, everything was dark. Terry threw his arms out and sent the shattered building around him flying, chunks of drywall, flooring, and shredded office furniture flying. The building looked to have been abandoned, which was a small comfort compared to what he saw. A second black Sera-R set down in front of him, next to the damaged one, and turned a gravitic gatling cannon on him.
Terry swallowed. He didn’t want to find out if he could survive a direct hit. It wouldn’t pierce the armor, but it might break every bone in his very human body.
A second voice boomed over the loudspeaker from the new Seraphim. “You don’t want to mess with the Bogart Brothers, pal. We fly Seraphim and we don’t take no nonsense from people like you!”
“What my brother Harry is saying,” the pilot of the blinded Seraphim added, “all fancy-like because Ma and Pa only could afford college for one of us, is to not fuck with us!”
“That’s… truly unfortunate,” Terry sighed.
“Don’t insult Johnny’s intelligence!” Harry yelled.
What came next happened too fast for the Shield to quite process. One moment, the two brothers were shouting at him, cannons pointed in his direction. The next, a beam saber stabbed through the knee of Johnny’s blinded Sera-R and brought it down. At the same time, Terry could have sworn, a magitek-produced fire beam ripped through the shoulder of the right arm of the gatling cannon-toting Sera-R. Its cannon dropped down at an angle, before a third Seraphim kicked into the back of its head.
It wasn’t a model that Terry had ever seen before. It was starkly white, with black segments on the chest and legs, and a silver double V-shaped antenna. The eyes glowed green, and it had a blade of shimmering red light in its hand. It wasn’t, he realized, a beam sword: it was a projection of a magical blade, energy field containing numerous runes written across it. Floating behind it were half a dozen flying cannons, which landed on its shoulders and formed a sort of stylized wings.
“Shield,” the new pilot said. “Good work.”
The white Seraphim stumbled backward when Harry’s machine threw it backward. It swung an arm down – a cannon opened up from a retractable component in the forearm – but the two brothers’ robots glowed a brilliant yellow. Terry saw the two robots clasp hands, then a blast of lightning exploded out from the two. It formed a dome, which threw the white machine back.
They flew into the sky, blitzing away, while the white Seraphim fell to a knee. Terry swore, softly, as he saw sparks exploding from several of its joints and sensors. He ran straight towards the robot, leaping the rest of the way to land in front of it. The hatch swung open and the pilot stepped out, clad in a white and gold pilot suit.
“You recognized me,” Terry said.
“Not many guys in Seraphim battlesuits running around,” the man said. He pulled his helmet off. There was something faintly familiar about him, but he wasn’t easy to recognize: the stern features seemed familiar, but the nondescript head of brown hair and short beard didn’t make identifying him easy. His eyes were hidden behind sunglasses, but he stuck Terry with a gaze. “I’m Malakim Scipio. Grand Army Special Operations Group.”
“I’ve never heard of it.”
“That’s the plan,” he said. He pulled a hand radio transmitter off his suit, then spoke into it. “Gallus, I need a retrieval team. Call off the APD and Luftwaffe units. Get my bird back to base and figure out what the hell they did to it.” Terry couldn’t make out the crackle that came over the radio. “I’ll be back for it. I’m getting some intel.”
“You know anything about who those guys were?” Terry asked the pilot.
He shook his head. “No clue,” he said. “There shouldn’t be Seraphim in the Zozoan mafia. We should compare notes. I’m thinking your place.”
“Uh, it’s not really my place,” Terry said, “and I’m not sure how they’re going to feel about bringing a Grand Army spec ops guy with an obvious codename home. I mean–”
“Praxer Riose hangs out at mine,” the pilot interrupted.
“Right,” Terry said. “We can go back to my friend’s apartment. This will be great. Please, uh, don’t break things.”
Scipio cut him a long look, over the top of his sunglasses. The grey eyes that peered at him over the edge of those flight glasses had a flatness to him. “I’m an excellent house guest,” he said. “We should stop in a convenience store so I can get your friend some kind of housewarming gift. Some candy or something.”
“This,” Terry declared, “is getting weird.”